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Recordings

The Italian Dramatic Lament
24 Jul 2006

The Italian Dramatic Lament

Its foundational interest in affective response made the early Baroque era a time rich in the nurture of highly impassioned music and text. Little surprise then that laments, with their characteristic emotional intensity, were particularly at home on the early seventeenth-century stage and in the chambers of the nobility.

The Italian Dramatic Lament

The Catacoustic Consort: Catherine Webster, soprano, Michael Leopold, theorbo, Becky Baxter, Baroque triple harp, Annalisa Pappano, lirone, treble viola da gamba, and Artistic Director

Naxos 8.557538 [CD]

$7.99  Click to buy

“The Italian Dramatic Lament,” performed by the award-winning Catacoustic Consort, brings together assorted laments by a trio of composers who figure prominently in any consideration of early opera: Claudio Monteverdi, Jacopo Peri, and Giulio Caccini. While not all of the works on the recording are operatic—there are some “unattached” songs as well as instrumental music—the collection richly evokes the highly emotional and highly stylized music that comprised the stilo rappresentativo.

Soprano Catherine Webster is an impressive singer with a commanding dramatic range, equally adept at impassioned verbalism and lyrical singing. This range famously comes into play in works like Monteverdi’s “Lamento d’Arianna,” a work that Webster handles with notable vocal flexibility and a compelling sense of style. Throughout the recording she sings with a mature understanding of the dynamics at play in the works, and the result is unflaggingly convincing. That which ultimately sets this recording apart, however, is the beguiling contribution of the instrumentalists. The interplay of lirone (a chordal bowed-string instrument with regrettably few modern practitioners), harp, and theorbo is unusually rich here, adopting a freely improvisational approach, full of dynamism and responsiveness. It is brilliant continuo playing, and the collaborative color and spontaneity do much to make the performances wondrously alive.

Several instrumental works by Hieronymus Kapsberger give the ensemble a chance to extend the lamentative theme. Tellingly, all are grounds, including a large-scale Passacaglia. The ground bass form is often associated with laments in the seventeenth century, where their descents became emblematic of falling tears and their obstinate repetitions seem to embody the inescapability of fate.

This is a stunning recording by a young ensemble well worth watching in the future. The performances here dramatically underscore the degree to which early seventeenth-century style is collaborative, and the “Catacousticians” amply show the rewards of a heightened collaborative approach. But moreover, the performances here remind as well of the degree to which manner of performance lies close to the heart of this repertory. And in this case, the heart is well served, indeed.

Steven Plank
Oberlin College

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